Verbal Nouns

A verbal noun represents a change in the form of a verb which allows it to be used as a noun in a sentence. For example, the verbal noun in English for “to read” is “reading.” You would say, for example, “Reading is good for you.” In the previous sentence, “reading” is the subject. If you say “I love reading Arabic books” you have made “reading” the direct object. In this section we will study the derivation and some of the uses of the verbal noun in Arabic.

Derivation of Verbal Nouns: The Good News

The verbal nouns for the overwhelming majority of derived verbs (Forms II-X) are extremely easy to derive. Within each form if you can derive one verbal noun you can derive almost all of them. Here we will look at Form II verbal nouns.


The verbal noun for دَرَّسَ is تَدْريس Look at the way the verbal noun is constructed. A prefix of تَ is added to the word while a sukuun is placed over the first radical. Then a ي, acting as a long vowel, is placed between the second and third radicals. The result is pronounced “tadriis.” This is the pattern for the vast majority of Form II verbal nouns. For example, the verbal nouns of ذكّر and عيّن are, respectively, تذكير and تعيين What could be easier? Note that for عيّن the verbal noun contains two consecutive yaa’s. The first is from the verb itself and acts as a consonant; the second is added as part of the verbal noun and is pronounced as a long vowel. The word is pronounced “ta’yiin.”


Defective verbs have a slightly different pattern. The verbal noun for سمّى is تَسمية pronounced “tasmiya.” Here the ي of the root and the ي which is added give us just one ي preceded by a kasra. All Form II defectives have this pattern.


Form II verbs whose last radical is a hamza take a pattern very similar to that of defective verbs. For example, the verbal noun of هنّا (“to congratulate”) is تَهنئة Note that the hamza sits on a ي. The word is pronounced “tahni’a.”


A few Form II verbs have more than one verbal noun pattern. The two patterns may have different meanings. For example, the verb كرّر means “to repeat” but it also means to “to refine” as in oil refining. The verbal noun for the first meaning is تكرار while the verbal noun for the second meaning is تَكْرير. The verb جرّبَ (“to test”, “to try”) has a verbal noun of تجربة and one of تجريب. Sometimes the former refers to a specific test while the latter usually refers to the act of testing in general.


The exceptions to the pattern of تفعيل are nonetheless rare and you should not worry about them.

You should also be aware that most of the regular Form II verbal nouns take feminine sound plurals. A few of them may also taken broken plurals. Usually the broken plural will have a different meaning. For example تَعليم (“instruction”) has a sound plural تَعليمات meaning “instructions.” However, it also has a broken plural تعاليم meaning “teachings” as in the teachings of some popular figure. As with all nouns, you should deal with the meanings of the plurals as you come to them.


The Bad News

The bad news is that while the verbal nouns of the derived forms are easy to predict, the verbal nouns of Form I verbs come in many different sizes, shapes and patterns. As you learn each new Form I verb you will have to memorize its verbal noun just as you memorize the broken plurals for new nouns and adjectives. Be aware, also, that some Form I verbs can have more than one verbal noun and that these nouns may differ in meaning from each other.


There are many patterns. In EMSA vol. 1, Chapter 16, there is a good list of some of the most common Form I verbal nouns. It would behoove you to pay great attention to that list. Note the many patterns. Do not try to memorize the patterns themselves. Just learn the actual nouns. But it is good to be aware of the possibilities in terms of patterns so that you can tell what is going on when you are reading a text. It is always to your benefit to be able to determine what kind of word you are reading if you do not know its meaning. If you know what kind of a word it is, it will be very easy for you to find it in a dictionary or to make an educated guess about the word’s meaning if you know other words from the same root.

Just for reference, below is an abridgment of the chart on pages 314-315 of volume one of EMSA showing one or two examples of each of the major patterns listed on that chart.


Verbal Noun


Verbal Noun

























Use of the Verbal Noun

The verbal noun in Arabic has a number of uses. In this chapter I will focus on the three most problematic ones. Other uses of the verbal noun (covered in Chapters Five and Six of Part II) are largely stylistic or ornamental and are very easy to learn. Learn what’s in this chapter, and you will have the verbal noun stuff down.


The verbal noun in Arabic usually refers to the doing of the action referred to by the verb. Here we will focus on three ways it can be used: to replace a verb in the subjunctive, as a concept, or as a concrete noun. No doubt, you want examples of this. Let’s take each item one at a time.


In our examples we will use the verbal noun for the verb يَعملُ , عَمِلَ (“to work”). The verbal noun for this verb is عَمَلٌ. In the first type of usage mentioned in the above paragraph the word عَمَل means “work” in sentences such as “He went to Kuwait in order to work there.” In such situations, the particle لِ is attached to the verbal noun. Examine the following sentence.


ذهب الى الكويت لِلْعَمَلْ هناك

Note two things about this sentence. First, the لِ being used here is the same one that is used with verbs in the subjunctive. When لِ is attached to the verbal noun this way it is working as a preposition and puts the verbal noun in the genitive. The sentence could be rendered using the subjunctive verb instead of the verbal noun and mean the same thing.


ذهب الى الكويت لِيَعْمَلَ هناك

Thus, the verbal noun can be used in place of the verb in the subjunctive and have the same meaning as the verb. This is use number one.


Also, notice that the verbal noun in our model sentence is DEFINITE. When the verbal noun is used in place of the verb it is almost always definite. The only time a verbal noun used in this way will be indefinite is if it is used as the first term of an indefinite idaafa. For example, compare the sentences below.


1. Samiir went to Syria to visit.

١. ذهب سمير الى سوريا لِلزيارة.

2. Samiir went to Syria to visit a friend.

٢. ذهب سمير الى سوريا لِزيارة صديق.

3. Samiir went to Syria to visit the market in Damascus.

٣. ذهب سمير الى سوريا لِزيارة السوق في دمشق.


In the first sentence, زيارة is definite as it should be. In the second sentence, the verbal noun is indefinite since Samir went there “to visit a friend.” If the verbal noun had the definite article then there would be no idaafa. In cases such as the second sentence above, the verbal noun is left indefinite.

You will see many instances similar to sentence three. Here the verbal noun is part of a definite idaafa and is therefore definite. When the verbal noun is used with لِ it is very often in an idaafa, either definite or indefinite. You will see plenty of examples shortly.

Now we come to the second of the three uses, the use of the verbal noun as a concept. In English, when we take a concept as such love, hate, or work, we usually keep the words indefinite. For example “Work builds character.” In Arabic, we can use the verbal noun to represent concepts just as we do in English. However, we keep the verbal noun in Arabic DEFINITE. This is because in Arabic, concepts are always definite (and often, but not always, singular) whether or not they are derived from verbal nouns. Thus when we wish to us عَمَل as a concept we will always make it definite. For example.


1. Work in the path of God is a duty.

١. العَمَلُ في سبيل الله واجبٌ.

2. Cleanliness is a part of faith.

٢. النظافة من الإيمانِ.

In sentence two نظافة is a verbal noun meaning “cleanliness”. The sentence is a well-known Islamic statement. If fact, since إيمان “faith” is also a verbal noun and is being used as a concept, it too is definite.


The third use of the verbal noun refers to its possible use as a “concrete” noun. That is, it can be just a regular good old boring noun, an every-day word. In this regard, عَمَل can mean “a job” as in:

I have a job in this ministry. لي عملٌ في هذه الوزارة


The verbal noun here is indefinite since the person is saying he has a job. The verbal noun used this way can also be made definite depending on what is being communicated. If someone wants to talk about “the job” instead of “a job” he would make the word definite and then could talk about “his job” being great or whatever.


Remember that a verbal noun will usually be definite with the exceptions noted above. American students often forget this. Remember also that there are three ways to make a word definite in Arabic. The verbal noun can also be made definite in all three ways for all three uses. Examine the sentences below and see how the verbal noun is used.

1. I went to Iraq to study the history of Islam.

١. ذهبتُ الى العراق لِدراسة تاريخ الاسلام.

2. The study of the history of Islam is very important. (Or “Studying the history of Islam …)

٢. دراسةُ تاريخ الاسلام مهمةٌ جدا.

3. He wrote a study about the role of Islam in the world.

٣. كتب دراسةٌ عن دور الاسلام في العالم.

Note that in the last sentence the verbal noun is indefinite. This is an example of the third usage of the verbal noun which can be indefinite or definite depending on the situation.


Oh Yes, Just One More Thing

Sometimes a verbal noun from a transitive verb can take a direct object in the accusative case. I have always thought this was sort of cool. What does this mean? Examine the two sentences below.

1. He talked about the study of the Arabic language.

١. تكلم عن دراسةِ اللغةِ العربيةِ.

2. He talked about his study of the Arabic language.

٢. تكلم عن دراستِهِ اللغةَ العربيةَ.


The first sentence is a typical use of a verbal noun. The verbal noun is in an idaafa with اللغةِ. As a result the second term of the idaafa is in the genitive case, as usual.

Now look at the second sentence. You will recall that nothing can come between the first and second terms of an idaafa except for the demonstratives such as هذا and هذه. In the second sentence we have a pronoun suffix attached to دراسة which makes the verbal noun definite and which comes between it and what would otherwise be the second term of the idaafa. Therefore we no longer have an idaafa, so there is no reason to put اللغة in the genitive case. اللغة is not the subject of the sentence, nor is it the predicate of an equational sentence. Therefore there is no reason to put it in the nominative case. The accusative case is the only option remaining. Since the verb from which the noun دراسة is derived is transitive, it is understood as taking اللغة as its direct object, so اللغة is written in the accusative.

Some writers tend not use the above construction, especially with certain verbs. They get around it by using the particle ل meaning here “of’ or “belonging to.” We can rewrite the sentence we have just analyzed as: تتكم عن دراستِهِ للغةِ العربيةِ

Here we simply add لِ, meaning “of,” to اللغة and put the word in the genitive case since لِ always puts a noun in the genitive . The meaning is the same. Basically the two styles are interchangeable and you will see both.

3 comments… add one
  • I’ve been very confused lately… What is the difference between active and passive participles and the verbal noun?

    • maybe like this: verb – to write
      active particip – doer – writer
      passive particip – done to – written
      masdar – name/action – the writing

  • Hello,

    Great article. I understand that masdar can take a direct object once derived from transitive verbs, but how about a masdar being itself a direct object? For example, in رأيت بنائا, “I saw a building” I believe it’s a masdar functioning as a direct object, but what about:
    كل شخص يريد الاستمتاع بالحياة؟ Is Istimta’ in a sense of “to enjoy” a direct object?

    Thanks in advance,


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